Supreme Court of the United States

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US Supreme Court Building
Importance of the Court for the future of the country
“If the ... president doesn't place morally sound Christians on the bench of our highest court of this land, we might as well look for a new country to raise our children in. The Reagan and George H. Bush administrations failed us when they nominated "moderates" to the bench and the Clinton administration further disappointed us with the nomination of Judge Ginsburg. The ... presidential administration will determine the path the United States will take. Will it be path of light, or further darkness?”

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) is the highest court of the judiciary of the United States of America. In recent years the Court has been accepting fewer cases for review, declining to a record low of only about 60 cases in its 2023-2024 Term.

Alexander Hamilton originally described the federal judiciary as the "least dangerous branch" because it does not have the power to enforce its rulings, or control the country's finances.[2] However, liberals on the Supreme Court have grabbed power in the last half-century to improperly exceed the authority of the other branches of government.

The Supreme Court hears and decides fewer and fewer cases: 150 per year in the mid-1900s, to only 80-90 cases in 1990s and 2000s, to only 60-70 around 2020, and then only 50-60 cases in 2022.[3]


Starting in 1791, the Supreme Court met in the Old City Hall building in Philadelphia. The size of the court was set at nine in the Judiciary Act of 1869. Between 1800 and 1935, it met primarily in the basement of the United States Capitol building, then in the Old Senate Chamber, until it moved into its present location at One First Street NE, Washington, D.C.


The Constitution does not specify the number of Justices on the Court. The Judiciary Act of 1869 set the number at the current nine, consisting of eight Associate Justices and one Chief Justice. To assist them there are many clerks, guards, and staff. Historians generally divide Court history into eras named after the Chief Justice then presiding (e.g., the Rehnquist Court and the Warren Court).

The Supreme Court of the United States, 2010 Back Row (l-r):Sotomayor, Breyer, Alito, Kagan Front Row(l-r):Thomas, Scalia, Roberts, Kennedy, Ginsburg

Justices are appointed by the U.S. President with the advice and approval of the U.S. Senate, which means that confirmation by a vote of a simple majority of the Senate is required before one can be sworn in as a Justice of the Supreme Court. There is no requirement that, whenever The Chief Justice's seat is vacant, that the nominee be a member of the Court, though it is common.

A list of pending cases to be heard on their merits by the Supreme Court, also known as petitions for which certiorari has been granted, is available on its website.[4]

How Cases are Heard

Except for a few cases (mainly involving disputes between states) where the Court has original jurisdiction, a party to a case from a lower court (either a Federal appellate court, or a state supreme court if the party is arguing that a United States Constitutional right was violated) must request the court to grant a writ of certiorari to hear the case.

The Court grants the writ in only about one out of every 100 petitions filed with it each year. And when granted, not all cases result in an actual court hearing: the court may grant the writ in a case similar to one where the Court did render an opinion, but then instead of a hearing will remand (return to the lower court) the case to reconsider its decision in light of the Court's opinion in the similar case (this is common if the opinion was rendered either during a term of the Court or the immediately preceding prior term).

When a case is heard, the Court hears the cases en banc (as opposed to lower-level courts where a panel may hear the case). Time limits are very strict, usually only one hour (divided between the parties) is granted (though, in some exceptional cases, extra time may be granted) and the parties are frequently interrupted by a Justice asking a question or making a comment (though notably, Justice Clarence Thomas had a long period where he didn't ask a question from the bench).


Prior to the Marshall Court, the Court issued opinions in seriatim. This means that each Justice wrote his own opinion and delivered it from the bench. Currently, the Court issues one opinion, said to be "the opinion of the Court." Opinions tend to have the history of the case, followed by the Court's reasoning and action. Generally, the opinion will be written by a member of the majority, chosen by either the Chief Justice or the most senior Justice in the majority.

When a majority of Justices agree to the opinion, it is called the majority opinion. Occasionally, a majority of Justices agree to the remedy, yet a minority of Justices agree with the main opinion. This is called a plurality opinion.

Justices that disagree with the Court's action can and frequently do write dissenting opinions, which state their objections to the ruling. When a Justice agrees with an action, but not the reasoning behind it, he may write a concurring opinion, which states the reasoning he would have used. Such opinions have no bearing on the case at bar, but are often used later as justification for legal rulings.

Conservative and liberal votes

How judges became more conservative (moving up) or liberal (moving down) over time. Click to enlarge.

Four of the five most conservative justices to serve on the court since 1937, out of a total of 43 justices, are on the court right now: Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito The fifth was Chief Justice William Rehnquist, whom Chief Justice Roberts replaced in 2005.[5] Looking at votes in divided cases on ideologically charged issues like criminal procedure, civil rights and the First Amendment shows Justice Thomas, the most conservative justice. He voted for the conservative position in those cases 82% of the time. Justice Marshall, the only other African-American to serve on the court, was by this measure the most liberal, voting for the conservative side 21% of the time. Thankfully, Scalia maintained a hard conservative position, consistently opposing liberals and their fruitless court positions.

In ten of the last eleven appointments, the new justice was more conservative than the one replaced.

Current members

Name Date of Accession Appointed by Title General ideology
Clarence Thomas October 23, 1991 George H. W. Bush Associate Justice conservative
John Roberts September 29, 2005 George W. Bush Chief Justice moderate/swing
Samuel Alito January 31, 2006 George W. Bush Associate Justice conservative
Sonia Sotomayor August 6, 2009 Barack Obama Associate Justice liberal
Elena Kagan August 7, 2010 Barack Obama Associate Justice liberal
Neil Gorsuch April 10, 2017 Donald Trump Associate Justice conservative
Brett Kavanaugh October 6, 2018 Donald Trump Associate Justice conservative
Amy Coney Barrett October 26, 2020 Donald Trump Associate Justice conservative
Ketanji Brown Jackson June 30, 2022 Joe Biden Associate Justice liberal


  1. Anthony Falzarano (2009). "18.What the ex-gay movement must accomplished to succeed", And Such Were Some Of You! One Man's Walk Out Of The Gay Lifestyle. Xulon Press, 223. ISBN 978-1606473863. 
  2. Federalist #78
  4. Cases pending for the 2007 term
  5. see Adam Liptak, "To Nudge, Shift or Shove the Supreme Court Left," New York Times Jan. 31, 2009 Data from a 2008 study by William M. Landes, who teaches law and economics at the University of Chicago, and conservative Judge Richard A. Posner of the federal appeals court.

See also

Further reading

  • Hall, Kermit L., ed. The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States (2005) excerpt and text search, complete text online at many academic libraries.
    • Patrick, John J. ed. The Young Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States (1994)
  • Hall, Kermit L., and James W Ely Jr., eds. The Oxford Guide to United States Supreme Court Decisions (2009) excerpt and text search, complete text online at many academic libraries.
  • Rehnquist, William H. The Supreme Court (2002), a popular introduction excerpt and text search
  • Savage, David G. Turning Right: The Making of the Rehnquist Supreme Court (1993) excerpt and text search